Thursday, February 24, 2011

Close Call

My family lived through a harrowing experience this evening.

As my entire family drove home from the Bing Crosby Theater in downtown Spokane, we followed Monroe Street to the north side of town. A few blocks past Garland, I saw something moving on the street perhaps only 20 or 30 yards ahead. At first I thought it was an animal, but as we got closer, I realized it was a person lying on the road! I stopped the car and turned on my hazard lights. Then I got out of the car and shouted, "Are you okay?"   

A woman wearing all black - high heals, a short skirt, and a black coat - was struggling to stand, but repeatedly slipped on a solid sheet of ice and fell flat onto her back. She was crying and apologizing. "I'm sorry," she sobbed, "I got into a fight with my husband, and I was trying to walk home."

"Are you hurt?" I asked.

"I fell onto my back side," she said, "I think I've had a little too much to drink." The smell of alcohol and the slur of her speech confirmed her statement.

After checking that she didn't hit her head or sustain any serious injuries, I attempted to help her stand. Unfortunately, her feet continued to slip on the ice, even despite my support. At that point, Rhonda and Dakota came to help, and between the three of us, we lifted her to her feet and helped her back to the car. We drove several blocks and helped get her safely inside her home.

As we drove away, Rhonda and I were deeply shaken.

We realized that the woman could have easily died if circumstances were only slightly different. She was lying on the road, having fallen squarely in the path of my car, but she was wearing all black. She was also lying in the shadow of a large snow embankment, so it was especially difficult to see her. If she had not moved in that exact moment, I'm not 100 percent certain that I would have noticed in time. I shudder to think that we could have driven right over the top of her. Or if not us, somebody else could have hit her. Dozens of other cars passed in those few moments, many of them driving much faster than us on the compact snow and ice. No one else paused or even looked in our direction.

And even if she survived the cars, how long would she last as she lay there intoxicated and semi-conscious on a sheet of ice? The air temperature hovered around nine degrees with a significant wind chill. I'm not a medic, but I think hypothermia would happen fairly quickly under those conditions.

As we said our family prayer at the end of the evening, we gave thanks to God for helping that woman out of a potentially deadly situation. We also gave thanks for this gift of life. We realize now, more than ever, that life is fragile. We can lose everything in a split second, and yet here we are. I end this day with an overwhelming sense of humility and gratitude.

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